SACRAMENTO, Calif. (ChurchMilitant.com) - In California, statues of St. Junípero Serra, founder of the state's mission system, continue to come under attack.
Over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, protestors in Sacramento used heavy tow straps to tear down a statue of the saint standing on the Capitol grounds.
The statue in Sacramento is the third statue of the saint to come down in California. On Friday, June 19, protestors pulled down the saint's statue in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, and the next day, activists torn down a Serra statue in downtown Los Angeles.
California bishops' responses to the vandalism has varied, with San Francisco Abp. Salvatore Cordileone expressing the greatest outrage.
We are here at the site where the statue of Fr. Serra stood in Golden Gate Park that was blasphemously torn down. An act of sacrilege occurred here that is an act of the evil one. Evil has made itself present here. ... I've been feeling great distress and sort of a deep wound in my soul when I see these horrendous acts of blasphemy and disparaging of the memory of Serra, who was such a great hero.
In contrast, Sacramento Bp. Jaime Soto's response was more guarded.
In his statement, he wrote, "This act of vandalism does little to build the future." But he immediately shifted, "There is no question that California's indigenous people endured great suffering during the colonial period and then later faced the horror of government-sanctioned genocide under the nascent State of California. This legacy is heartbreaking."
Meanwhile, to the south in Ventura, Catholics are pushing back against attempts to remove the statue of St. Serra in front of its city hall. The evolving struggle is now focused on the claim that the statue is not a historic landmark.
In a decision the Catholic community anticipated, the city's Historic Preservation Committee ruled the statue is not a historic landmark because it is a replacement of the original. Despite the setback, the faithful are battling on.
Led by local civil engineer Francisco Zinkewich, a group of Ventura County Catholics are considering a legal challenge. In an e-mail message to Church Militant, Zinkewich provided a weekend update.
Zinkewich reports he was "pleasantly surprised to hear" Bp. Robert Barron was defending the Ventura statue of Serra on July 4.
In addition to their interest in taking legal action, members of the Catholic community (mostly young men) in Ventura county recently surrounded the Serra statue, protecting it from protesters' attacks.
Writing on behalf of Humans Against the Erasing of History, Patrick Rea created a petition to keep the statue, and it has received nearly 5,000 signatures. Rea amended the petition on July 5 to include this update: "Yesterday [July 4] a group of friends, family and other patriots showed their support for the statue in face of an opposition that was roughly 3 times its size."
Rea is calling for video footage and/or photos to document the events that occurred on July 4.
Serra supporters are facing a tough legal battle. Calls for the statue's removal began several weeks ago when protesters claimed the statue represented the destruction of California's Native American population.
Ventura's mayor tossed the hot potato issue to the City Council, who tossed it to the city's Historic Preservation Committee.
Following an investigation, it was pointed out that the current statue is actually a replica of the original statue officially named a historic landmark in 1974. The original, created in 1936, was made of concrete and had deteriorated by the 1980s. The city commissioned an exact replica but this time in bronze. It was installed in 1989. The designated landmark was put in storage.
In their discussion, the historic preservation committee members unanimously agreed the city's designation of a historic landmark only applied to the original statue, even though a sign beneath the 1989 statue inaccurately designated it as a landmark. The historic preservation committee says the new statue cannot be designated a historic landmark because it hasn't reached the benchmark of being more than 40 years old.
Ventura Community Development Director Peter Gilli summed up what is likely the city's position.
"It's important to note for the public that a statue of a historic figure at a prominent location does not automatically make the statue a historic landmark. Also, just the fact that an object is important to the community would not automatically make an object historic."
Gilli also let the community know that the historic designation was moot. He said the City Council has the ability to relocate the statue regardless of its historic designation and that the committee's impact is mostly on the protocol required to take action.
Zinkewich has created a Facebook page to help local Catholics follow the City Council's meeting schedule so they can add their voices to the discussion. The Ventura City Council will be meeting on Tuesday, July 6, at 6 p.m. PT to decide the fate of their city's Serra statue.